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Jose Gonzalez 

In Our Nature (Mute/Imperial Recordings)

Wednesday, Nov 21 2007
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It was only a matter of time before a Jose Gonzalez song appeared during the sappy monologue that closes every episode of Scrubs. His sensitive acoustic songcraft, built around contemplative lyrics and melancholy guitar chords, is the perfect soundtrack to Zach Braff's hypersentimental voiceover. But the song that did the honors, Gonzalez' cover of The Knife's "Heartbeats," isn't the typical emo-troubadour crap (see Cary Brothers) you normally hear on primetime TV. Instead, his refined take on the singer-songwriter genre helps to temper the melodrama.

Gonzalez tries to repeat this success on his latest album with another cover, this time of Massive Attack's "Teardrop." It's a pretty version, but it's far from the best material on the record. In Our Nature's tracklist alternately floats and chugs along, as the Swedish-Argentine singer's unique voice buoys even the sleepier tunes with a subtle beauty. His songwriting is understated, a wave of quietly powerful emotion welling up behind each picked note and repeated phrase. He has a particular talent for lacing a song composed of just guitar and vocals with simple yet propulsive rhythms. "How Low," the disc's opening antiwar screed, is invigorated by his syncopated guitar playing, as he warns, "Someday you'll be up to your knees in the shit you seed." In a rare moment, "Time to Send Someone Away" employs a minimal, crackling electronic beat to keep time, but delicate melodies remain the focus.

Don't be surprised if Grey's Anatomy is the next weepy to license one of his songs, but not even Ellen Pompeo's trite observations can detract from the soft potency of Jose Gonzalez' music.

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Jonah Flicker

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